Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Crafting, Part 1

Well, since I can't do much gardening right now, I thought I'd focus on crafting for the holidays.  You can make many of your own decorations as well as nifty gifts - which can also save you a lot of money (unless you get tooooooooo carried away in projects!).
In the month of November, I do lots of Make-It, Take-It projects.  I do it for my herb group in Greenfield, and I do it for our Master Gardener group in Rushville, and then I do it again at the shop Thanksgiving weekend.  One of the projects we did this year was Holiday Potpourri.  It is so easy to do - and you can probably gather the ingredients without too much cost.
I do a lot of potpourri making for the shop, so I do buy many of my supplies in bulk.  You can find them online at Atlantic Spice Co. ( and also from San Francisco Herb Co. (  But you can also gather many of these things in your own backyard.
Holiday potpourri can consist of any combination of the following items:  dried pine needles or cedar, pinecones, acorns, nuts (hickory nuts, walnuts, or even buckeyes), dried roses, dried cockscomb, sweet gum balls (from the sweet gum tree), dried orange or lemon peel, dried orange slices, dried apple slices, and any of the whole spices such as cloves, cinnamon sticks, allspice, ginger.  I know, I know, you probably don't have a cinnamon or clove tree.......but these are just some suggestions for items that could go into potpourri.
At the shop, we put together a combination of cedar, bay leaves, sweet gum balls, pinecones, dried orange peel, dried orange slices, and dried apple slices and also some nuts.  I also had a couple of other pods that I had purchased.  These were all put into a quart jar and then we added some fragrance oil.  We put on the lid and then tied a pretty strip of fabric around the neck of the jar.  They turned out beautifully!
It is very easy to dry your own apple or orange slices.  I used up some apples that I had in the refrigerator for awhile that were starting to get a bit mushy.  I took the apples and sliced them thin, and then dropped them into a bowl with about 2 cups water and 3/4 cup lemon juice.  This will keep them from browning.
Here are my apple slices as I put them on the trays of my dehydrator.
I have a dehydrator that I purchased years ago and have used many, many times.  I have dried apple slices, orange slices, flower petals, and it is really great for drying herbs.  It took the apple slices 8 - 10 hours to dry completely.
Here are the apples after they were dried.  See how much they shrunk?
When they are dry, the apples are still a little flexible - they feel a lot like a hard piece of leather.  You can also dry apple slices in your oven if you don't have a dehydrator.  Keep the oven low, around 100 degrees if possible.  And it might be a good idea to prop the door open a bit to let the moisture escape.  You can put the slices on a baking sheet, or even right on the racks (but the racks will leave marks on the slices).  If you use a baking sheet, you might want to line it with parchment paper, or turn the apples occasionally so they don't stick to the pan.
The apple slices can be used in a varieties of ways.  They are great added to potpourri because the red peel adds a dash of color.  They can also be used as ornaments for the tree.  Simply make a little hole in the apple slice and then run a piece of ribbon, jute, yarn, or raffia through it to make a hanging loop.  They can be tied onto wreaths for festive color, strung together to make a garland, or even tied onto a package.  You could sprinkle them lightly with cinnamon before drying to make them very fragrant.
Orange slices can be dried in the same manner, but they usually take longer to dry and are messier to work with because of their higher moisture content.  But they are really beautiful and very fragrant when dried.
Later this week we'll talk about making pomanders for the holidays.

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